Cape Town - Naturally we should avoid getting too smug, or ahead of ourselves: the Springboks haven’t won RWC 2019. (Not yet, anyway.)
But just one compelling reason for believing they can go all the way in Japan, or at least desperately close to hoisting the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time, is the diligent way head coach Rassie Erasmus has gone about assembling vital depth for the challenge.
It is widely perceived that Erasmus has most bases reassuringly covered in the event of injury or any other fate befalling key personnel; a strong “second team”, in other words, among his party of 31 players.
Here’s a thought, though: just how decent would a side made up entirely of South African troops who missed out (very narrowly in some cases) on the jamboree in the Far East be?
While you won’t agree with me on every pick, here is simply an example of a XV you could put together – generally favouring locally-based players, but also including some who ply their trades, or are about to, overseas – from what might be branded a THIRD tier of Boks, not in RWC squad favour.
There is also a healthy emphasis on players Erasmus had in his more extended SA squad, shortly before he had to narrow it down to the 31 for the tournament, as they are clearly “bubbling under” in his thoughts and will come into consideration as standby options for the World Cup.
Note that it includes some who are presently injured, though by considering them eligible it serves as a reminder that, at optimal strength, this combo could feasibly knock over several full-strength sides on World Rugby’s global top 8-10 rankings list …
15 Curwin Bosch
Hard to overlook that deceptively powerful boot of his (both from tee and out of hand) and elusive running. Remember that Bosch is still only 22 with best years ahead, especially if his defensive game tightens up. Other tyros like long-legged Sharks squad-mate Aphelele Fassi and the Lions’ wholehearted Tyrone Green warrant thought.
14 Cornal Hendricks
While the likes of Sergeal Petersen and Ruan Combrinck would also stick up good hands, the inspiring comeback by Hendricks after years of health difficulties has been a feel-good story this year. He’s still got that special, predatory touch … and a dozen Test caps already to show.
13 Jan Serfontein
The classy former Bulls dynamo has had injury hassles galore, but is young enough at 26 to add plenty more Bok appearances yet to his current 35, despite his faraway base in Montpellier. Ideally you’d place him at twelve, but he is decent in the outside berth too.
12 Andre Esterhuizen
Another who only just missed on Japan, after earning a pretty generous eight earlier caps under the current Bok coach’s tenure -- so clearly considered no mug despite his limitations for creativity. He’s still a formidably strong, direct unit for the right occasions.
11 Dillyn Leyds
Started the recent Pretoria Test against Argentina, so the slippery, cerebral WP/Stormers back-three customer isn’t far from Erasmus’s broadest plans.
10 Damian Willemse
The Western Cape-based wunderkind probably only missed the RWC cut because he’d been side-lined for so long in the lead-up. But he was deemed third in line at pivot behind Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies by the Bok coach before his knee injury, so the fit-again, twinkle-toed customer cuts it as No 10 general for this combo.
9 Embrose Papier
You have to feel a bit for the “forgotten” Bulls scrumhalf, who did combine quite promisingly at times with Pollard at Test level last year before falling right off the Bok top-three pecking order at scrumhalf. Seasoned Francois Hougaard cannot too easily be overlooked, either.
8 Warren Whiteley
Bedevilled by ill-luck over injuries/health matters this season, the popular Lions skipper is nevertheless a known class act at the premier level at No 8 -- though another jinxed individual in Marcell Coetzee is a candidate for all three loosie positions, remember, in this exercise, and Dan du Preez lurking.
7 Rynhardt Elstadt
The tough Toulouse flanker can hardly be left out here: he was effectively Erasmus’s unlucky “player 32”, closest to making the RWC cut just before the squad announcement, so will still be hopeful of an emergency summoning to Japan, if the need arises. Jean-Luc du Preez is another very healthy option at seven, of course.
6 Jaco Kriel
If local is deemed more “lekker”, then Marco van Staden cracks the nod. But the talented, speedy Kriel (now at Gloucester) remains possibly a better, more internationally-proven bet at six?
5 Marvin Orie
It seems the fiery Lions player is next cab off the lock rank if any of the frontline quartet suffer mishap in Japan, so logically slots into this XV.
4 Jason Jenkins
Still only 23, the huge, now ex-Bulls specimen earned a once-off Bok cap against Wales in Washington DC last year and been overlooked since, in an enviable field of second-rowers -- but wouldn’t let most Test sides down.
3 Wilco Louw
While versatile Thomas du Toit also comes into the picture in either prop jersey, Louw is a more specialist tighthead anchorman, already boasting 13 caps and fast restoring his standards of a year or two back. Don’t forget Coenie Oosthuizen or Carlu Sadie, either.
2 Scarra Ntubeni
Earned a heart-warming maiden Bok cap off the bench at Loftus a couple of weeks ago, so is presumably next in line to Messrs Marx, Mbonambi and Brits, though gnarly old Bismarck du Plessis remains active in France and Joseph Dweba is on the rise. Psst, there’s also Akker van der Merwe.
1 Lizo Gqoboka
The talented Bulls loose-head just missed the RWC cut … but seems a sure-fire bet for further Test exposure once Tendai Mtawarira trots off into the sunset (perhaps after the World Cup). Devastating carrier and tackler Ox Nche is another candidate.
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